Bright Idea #2 : Post and Bracket Railing System

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COHP, University of Massachusetts Lowell

Summary Statement

Workers developed a post and bracket system to form a safety railing around a construction hole, which can be easily taken down and replaced when access is required. This reduced ergonomic problems. Part of a collection. Click on the 'collection' button to access the other items.

Piledrivers' and Dockbuilder's of Massachusetts, Local 56

The problem: removing, replacing safety railings

It's a hassle for everyone involved. How do you keep safety railings up around construction holes to which people need access?

Holes more than six feet deep, such as coffer dams and jacking pits, must have these guard rails. But workers on a Boston area site also needed to get in and out of these holes a lot, often with heavy equipment.

The guard rails were made of wooden 2x4's, and sometimes plywood sheets, nailed together. It took time and the right equipment to take down and re-build them. Workers often had to tear off the rails and their supports.

 Repeatedly using force in the awkward positions needed to do this can injure muscles and tendons over the long haul. Time pressures can make it worse.

The piledrivers responsible for the railings also had these kinds of ergonomic problems. Re-building meant a lot of bending for them too (see picture). Concentrating to avoid falling into the holes just made muscles tenser. And it was frustrating to keep putting up safety railings.

"I was sick and tired of putting up railings and sheets. They would just get smashed when someone wanted in there." - John Hunt.

The process: use what's available

"We needed something that was simple and easy for everyone, " says John Hunt, from Piledrivers' and Dockbuilders's of Massachusetts Local 56.

He wanted to build a system that would last as long as the holes were there. It had to be easily used and quick to make. It also had to meet OSHA rules. The process "is like a Rube Goldberg", he says, referring to a cartoonist who drew kooky contraptions of ordinary items put together for a simple purpose. "It just happened to be there" is his general approach.

Dumpsters and trash heaps are the main source of materials. Welding equipment and a Laborer's help are also needed.

The solution: use scrap metal to build a post and brackets system

Hunt's solution is a relatively permanent post and bracket system with replaceable wood railings. It can be put up quickly and taken apart easily. It also looks neat and tidy.

 Using a welding torch, he cuts a six-foot post from 1.75-inch pipe and a six-inch base of 2-inch pipe. He makes at least three sets for one side of each hole.

Hunt then uses left-over rebar to cut brackets, after making a form on which to bend the metal. he makes and welds two to each pole; one goes about six inches from the top and the other 20 inches lower. (See diagram below.)

After the coffer dam or jacking pit, with a Laborers' help, he welds each base to a piling; one goes at each end of the hole and at least one more in the middle. He puts a post in each base, measuring it to meet OSHA regulations.

After cutting the posts to fit and placing them, he slides 2x4 wooden railings through the brackets. The wood can be nailed together where the pieces cross or an extra bracket can be used so no nails are needed. The picture at left shows one final product.

Wooden railings can now be moved aside easily when workers or their equipment need to work in or near the hole. There is much less to do if nails need to be removed. and less chance of ergonomic problems. If the railings are damaged, the posts usually are still there, the brackets waiting for more 2x4's

The replaceable wood and metal system can be used on its own or mixed with traditional wooden rails and uprights.

Using this bright idea....

This post and bracket system could be used around other spaces requiring safety railings and access.
illustration of post andbracket system

It also can be adapted by adding another bracket beside or in front of the other. This would allow 2x4's to be held together without nails. Another type of base, such as clamps or metal strips, could be used and bolted into a surface such as concrete.